While the Man Booker Prize is one of the most high-profile literary awards in the world (and congratulations to Marlon James for last night’s win by the way), the alternative Not the Booker prize run by the Guardian’s books website has also been growing in popularity over the past few years. ‘Things We Have in Common’ by Tasha Kavanagh was featured on this year’s Not the Booker shortlist and was narrowly pipped to the post by Kirstin Innes’ novel ‘Fishnet’ which won the overall prize on Monday. ‘Things We Have in Common’ is narrated by Yasmin Laksaris, an overweight half-Turkish teenager who becomes obsessed with Alice Taylor, one of the most popular girls at school. Yasmin spots a man watching Alice outside school and when she goes missing, Yasmin is convinced she already knows who has taken her.
As a contemporary suburban psychological thriller, comparisons have been drawn between the characters of Yasmin in ‘Things We Have in Common’ and Barbara in Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller. Despite the significant generation gap, there are many similarities between their obsessive personalities, loneliness and unreliability. Kavanagh has created a truly authentic teenage voice for Yasmin and avoids falling into the trap of making her character come across as either too babyish or too adult for her age. Yasmin has all the contradictions, obsessions and mood swings of adolescence combined with coming to terms with the death of her father five years ago, her unpopularity at school and difficult relationship with her mother and stepfather. The novel isn’t particularly long but Kavanagh manages to show many different sides to Yasmin’s personality over a short period of time, ultimately presenting her in a more sympathetic light despite her awkward and sometimes disturbing actions. While Yasmin’s character development is the strongest element of the novel, the plotting is also excellent and Kavanagh maintains a high level of suspense throughout, particularly in Yasmin’s attempts to make contact with Samuel, the man she believes has taken Alice.
The whole book is very dark and the title and front cover design gradually take on a more sinister meaning as the story goes on. I am reluctant to give away too many of the plot details but what I will say is that it’s the ending of ‘Things We Have in Common’ which is particularly unsettling. At first, the ending seems open to interpretation about exactly what happens next, yet at the same time, it gives you all of the answers you need. Although I can see why some readers might not like the ending being quite so sudden – and it did come a lot more abruptly than I had expected – I thought it was suitably chilling and one of the best I’ve read in a long time.
I devoured ‘Things We Have in Common’ in two days last week and unless I come across something particularly spectacular in the next two months, I think this is going to be my favourite debut novel of 2015. Highly recommended and well worth reading if you’re looking for an alternative to the Man Booker Prize shortlist.